HL Deb 23 March 1990 vol 517 cc510-3

11.28 a.m.

Lord Tordoff asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their attention has been drawn to a leaflet produced by the Post Office entitled New Stamps without value? and, if so, whether they are aware how far "gentlemen's agreements" have been concluded with other countries to ensure the acceptance of mail bearing this type of stamp.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I understand from the Post Office that it produced this leaflet solely for internal purposes to brief its counter staffs that non-value indicator stamps were being issued for domestic mail only. Before issuing those stamps the Post Office had notified the International Bureau of the Universal Postal Union, requesting it to issue a circular to the 170 member administrations asking them to accept any non-value indicator stamps that erroneously appeared overseas. The Post Office has received no comments since that circular was published.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am most grateful for that reply. Is the noble Viscount aware that the leaflet to which I referred mentions that, The Universal Postal Union … dictates that stamps should bear a value. Customers should not therefore be advised that the stamps are valid for overseas mail"? The leaflet goes on to state: In practice, however, 'gentlemen's agreements' with other countries will ensure that any NVI stamps inadvertently used on overseas mail will be accepted without difficulty. This is for your own information and not to be divulged to customers". Does the noble Viscount agree that at no stage was that made clear to the customers who bought the stamps in good faith and presumably have used them in good faith on overseas mail? Does he not think it is about time that this monopoly organisation was referred to the Office of Fair Trading for concealing information from its customers?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Post Office states that the final paragraph of the leaflet referred to by the noble Lord attempted to encapsulate into a single sentence the provisions of the Universal Postal Union Convention and the Post Office's action in informing the UPU's international bureau through its 170 UPU-member postal administration about the issue of NVI stamps. The Post Office now recognises that this simplification was misleading. Nevertheless, it believes that in the context of the leaflet as a whole the paragraph provides sufficient information to equip members of its staff to deal with the public.

The Post Office has assured me that if it decides to issue books of non-value indicator stamps in future, these will make clear that the stamps are not suitable for overseas mail.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, will the noble Viscount assure us that no immediate increase in postage is envisaged? Does he not recall that the purpose of issuing these stamps was to bridge the gap between the announcement of an increase and its coming into effect? It was a total failure. When people realised that they could buy for 19p stamps which would shortly become worth 20p there was a short run on them. They totally disappeared some two weeks before the change of price. Is there therefore any point in continuing to issue these stamps?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, there is a slight inconsistency in what the noble Lord says. I agree that the stamps were made available before the change. It was done on the basis that many retail outlets also sell stamps and it helps customers if they can buy stamps before there is an imminent change about which they know so that they do not have to buy small denomination stamps to make up the difference. I have no information to advise the noble Lord of any impending increase.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that when these stamps first appeared I was told that one ought to have known that the stamps were not usable for overseas mail because inside the book there was nothing to say how much it cost to send postage to India or anywhere else? The non-value indicator stamp books now have such information printed inside. It therefore gives the impression that they are good for anywhere in the world.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I indicated that there is some possibility of the public being misled. That is why I have said that the Post Office has now assured us— and I repeat the assurance to the House— that if it decides to issue books again it will make clear that the stamps are not suitable for overseas mail.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, would it not be best for the Post Office not to issue that type of stamp again in the future? It will only lead to confusion.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I believe that the Post Office has a commercial interest to pursue. It has found it very useful to be able to issue these books in some quantity to the 40,000 small shops which also sell stamps to the public at the time of a change in postal values.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I do not wish to prolong this farce. How long are these books likely to be on sale? In answer to the question regarding how long these books will be on sale, the leaflet to which we referred earlier, states until early January. I bought this book last week.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, my last answer indicated the difficulty that there would be in withdrawing the stamps. Only a limited number of books was issued. The noble Lord may know that there are 1,400 Crown offices. There are 19,000 sub-offices which are run by independent people under franchise. There are 40,000 small shops which have purchased these books at a discount. It would be an extremely difficult operation to withdraw all the books from those 40,000 shops.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, did the Post Office ask the permission of the Government to do that? It is dealing with an issue of value. It is playing with values that are handed to the general public.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, as I understand it, the Post Office does not require the permission that my noble friend suggests. Obviously any increase in the postal rates has to be agreed.

Lord Harvington

My Lords, is there a philatelic aspect to the Question? It might be a good idea to get hold of these stamps and give them to one's grandchildren for birthday presents.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, these stamps are obviously of a limited duration and a special colour with a special indicator on them. They may or may not in the future have a value much in excess of their face value.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, if the Post Office must continue to issue these NVI stamps can the Government ask it to be very careful never to issue them in the future in a colour, such as red, that colour blind people cannot recognise?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I shall certainly draw that interesting suggestion to the attention of the Post Office.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, if the Post Office is to make further issues of valueless stamps, can it make sure that they are in conservative blue?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the stamps that are issued are not valueless. They are non-value indicator stamps.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, can my noble friend explain how the stamps without value do not get letters delivered abroad and the stamps with value do not get letters delivered here?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I believe that it is the intention of the Post Office that letters bearing stamps of whatever value should be delivered according to its rules.